Distance: 5.7 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 5985' (at the trailhead)
Elevation Gain: 300' (down then up)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.35
Round trip time: 2 hours 35 minutes
Recommended water: 32 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at BLM500/Skutumpah Road
Willis Creek is a non-technical slot canyon near Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. The drive from the north requires a 5 mile stretch of dirt road. The road is in good shape and doesn't require 4x4 or high clearance. There are three creek crossings and after rain, it might not be possible to get there. We arrived late morning minutes after another family. The trailhead parking lot is large and can accommodate more than a dozen cars. Flash flood danger is minimal since you can climb out of the canyon in most places. It was also Parker's birthday, so I wanted him to enjoy the outing.
The trail starts directly across from the lot. We followed the other family to the canyon drop in point. At first, we tried to avoid the steady stream of water, but the alternative was mud. We quickly learned that walking in the water was more stable than slipping around in the mud. The water was never more than 6-7" deep. The first slot section came early, followed by a 10' waterfall with a trail bypass on the right. In the second slot section, we all got comfortable working in and out of the water and passed the other family that started with us, who had still not learned to stay out of the mud. The kids were really having fun. A couple more slot sections included some nicely grooved walls and another one with high black walls.
About a mile from the start, the slot sections ended and the canyon widened out with sharp walls on only one side. It would have been easy to exit the canyon any place past the slots. As we passed a 15' boulder in the middle of the creek, my daughter challenged me to climb it. It looked like straight forward class 3 but my wet, muddy shoes were a problem. I used two underclings and one foot hold to reach the top. It was a little dicey on the descent as my feet slid around, but I made it down safely. We continued all the way to the end of Willis Creek where it feeds into Sheep Creek. We stopped at the end of the creek and sat down on a log for water and food. The return trip seemed to go faster. Shelby was ready to get back to the car and she set the pace upstream. The weather had held up, but on the way back we spotted dark clouds on the horizon. When we got back into cell range, we all got flash flood warnings, but were well out of harms way by then. It was a really fun hike and highly recommended for families. Who knew a 12 year old boy would enjoy splashing around in water and mud.